The walls of the office of Newt Gingrich, former speaker of the House of Representatives, are covered with a big photo of an American flag with the Capitol in the background, a dozen framed magazine covers bearing his portrait, and shelves loaded with books - mostly written by him. In the last three decades, the former Republican congressman from Georgia has published 23 books, on subjects ranging from government and economics to religion and energy, his latest being "A Nation Like No Other: Why American Exceptionalism Matters" (Regnery Publishing, 2011). The bulk of his writing is what can be termed "alternative" history.
Now pursuing the Republican nomination for the presidency in advance of next year's elections, Gingrich can take credit for issuing warnings about the directions his country has been taking long before they became part of mainstream discourse. Nevertheless, today some of the predictions of the man with a thousand ideas seem to be slightly off target. For instance, in his 1999 book "To Renew America," he wrote that "honeymoons in space will be the vogue by 2020." This month, with the last space shuttle on its way to a museum, it seems Gingrich was too optimistic. But the presidential hopeful still returns to his mantra about what he sees as the wrong turns his government has been taking.
"In 'Window of Opportunity,' which I wrote in 1984 - at the peak of Reagan's optimism - I talked about terrorism and nuclear weapons. We failed to solve our problems. Radical Islam is a much bigger threat today. China is a greater factor than it was in 1984. And, yes, we are at a crossroads," Gingrich tells Haaretz, sitting in his office on K Street in Washington.
"The United States is either going to have the American people repudiate the establishment and get back on track - or it will have the establishment preside over the decay of the country. If the latter happens, it is going to become a dramatically more dangerous world."
And this is precisely the reason Gingrich has decided to throw his hat into the presidential ring, he adds. He brushes off the inevitable questions about his chances of winning, and about his campaign's financial problems and the recent mass exodus of his staff.
"I think an amazing number of people who have never run a campaign make a living rendering judgment on things they don't know," he declares. "I am intent on trying to win the Republican nomination, and then win the presidency."
Gingrich was once portrayed as panicking about the future of America, but the rise of China confirms his fears. A recent poll by the Pew Research Center has shown that in 15 out of 22 nations, the majority opinion is that China either will replace or already has replaced the United States as the world's leading superpower. In France, this was a view held by 72 percent of the respondents, in Spain 67 percent, Britain 65 percent, Germany 61 percent, and Israel 47 percent.
"We are at the crossroads that's that big," Gingrich says. "We have a fundamental rejection of the establishment in both parties, and [need to] go back to being the arsenal of the democracy and a decisive, very entrepreneurial country - or my grandchildren will inherit a country that is clearly subordinate to China, and clearly threatened by radical Islam, and clearly incapable of creating and shaping its own future. Such a big choice, of having somebody run who has balanced the federal budget, been part of the national security since 1979, and who has thought about this at the level I am describing to you - it's an important option for the American people to look at. Do they want somebody who actually is prepared to lead an extraordinary and dramatic change, or do they want somebody who is a normal politician?"
He thinks the United States needs a fundamental change, and this includes putting a stop to its illusions about positive changes in the Arab world.
"The whole concept of the Arab Spring is an interesting fantasy," Gingrich explains. "We have no idea what is going to come out of this. It's like saying that the rise of the young colonels in the 1950s who replaced the Egyptian monarchy was a step toward modernity and the better future, or that the killing of the Iraqi king [Faisal II] in 1958 was a step toward modernity, and not a totalitarian system. Are the rebels in Benghazi the same people who are killing Americans in Iraq? Benghazi was the leading city contributing to anti-American fighters, ranking second after Saudi Arabia. Or are they in fact people who want modernity and democracy? I don't think we have a clue."
You say the U.S. shouldn't have intervened in the Libyan crisis.
Gingrich: "I think it's useful to use covert operations to get rid of Muammar Gadhafi, but I don't think the U.S. should have troops there. I think this whole effort to have forces on the ground has turned out to be a swamp, whether it's Afghanistan, Iraq or Libya. Because we are not prepared to be engaged deeply enough to change the culture, and we are [only] prepared to engage deep enough to get in and out. And that leaves you with the worst of all worlds. Because over time your enemies hate you, your very presence leads to more people deciding you are their enemy. You become a symbol around which to organize anti-Western radicalism.
"I am going to make a speech in August in which I'll argue that 10 years after 9/11, the U.S. is in greater danger, that we are relatively weaker and the forces of radical Islam are relatively stronger, and that anyone who is not deeply worried doesn't understand the facts that are evolving. We are not focusing on the main enemies. Iran is the largest threat in the short term. Pakistan is the largest threat in the long term. People are talking about Iran's nuclear weapons, when there are probably 100 nuclear weapons in Pakistan."
Do you believe they had any role in hiding Osama bin Laden?
"If you had asked me where he would be the day we'd find him, my working assumption was that he was hiding in some cave in Waziristan. If you'd say: 'Oh no, he is in a fairly large compound in a military city, about a mile from their National Defense Academy' - I would have said that it was only possible if a substantial part of the Pakistani intelligence service was actively helping him. Today, I say we have to confront the fact that our so-called ally is deeply divided, and has some very strong anti-American elements who would be thrilled to see us leave and become allied with the Chinese.
"Each of these things create a level of danger that our establishment wants to ignore. And that requires rethinking. We are told we have to be in Afghanistan, which is a country which is deeply corrupt and deeply tribal. Yet we are not investing enough in order to modernize it. Well, in order to be there, you have to have Pakistan's support - and they are clearly doing a number of things that are not supportive. So you end up with policy in which the secondary theater, Afghanistan, blocks you from thinking clearly about the primary theaters - Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Pakistan."
It seems Israel gets disproportionate attention in this arena - is it actually good for us?
"I think it would be much better for Israel if there was a broad consensus that the survival of Israel is integral to the survival of the U.S., and if Israel was a nonpartisan issue. With this president, it's not possible. He clearly has no understanding of the threat, no willingness to tell the truth about it, and has a fantasy vision of how the world works. His proposal [concerning] the 1967 borders was suicidal. An Israel that accepts 1967 borders is an Israel that accepts the demise of the country."
But he stressed "1967 with mutually agreed swaps." Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert basically already proposed the same concept.
"What Obama actually said, and what he is now saying that he said, are two different things. Obama in his original speech created a framework for Hamas and the PA [Palestinian Authority] to say: 'We'll start the negotiations with the border.'"
(Note: Here is what President Barack Obama said in his May 2011 Middle East speech at the State Department: "We believe the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states. The Palestinian people must have the right to govern themselves, and reach their full potential, in a sovereign and contiguous state.")
So what is your alternative solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict? What do you think about the settlements?
"I think the settlements are irrelevant. If Israel closed every settlement tomorrow morning, there would be a new demand. You have two ways of looking at what's going on in the region. The optimists say: 'Gee, if only we found the right formula, we could find peace.' The pessimists say: 'Until you find a way to defeat your enemies, you are not going to find peace.' And the optimists then say: 'Since it's impossible to defeat our enemies, we should be optimists and find peace.'"
So you don't see it as a political conflict?
"I see it as an identity conflict. It's much more profound than political. And it's a very hard thing to fight. The attitude of the radical wing of Islam, going all the way back to the 1920s and '30s, has been profoundly anti-Semitic, long before the establishment of the State of Israel. Hostility against the Jews in Palestine was extraordinary. The Grand Mufti of Jerusalem was very pro-Nazi. It's not a political problem, it's a fundamental question of identity."
So should there be a two-state solution?
"One of Reagan's greatest contributions to defeating the Soviets was to describe them in 1983 as the 'evil empire.' Hamas is evil. Hamas isn't a normal political operation and negotiating partner. Hamas is dedicated explicitly - publicly and repeatedly in every form of propaganda - to killing Jews and wiping out Israel."
There is still the PA with President Mahmoud Abbas.
"And Mahmoud Abbas said in a meeting a month ago in Qatar that he wants Palestine free of Jews. [Abbas explained later that he meant there will be no presence of Jewish soldiers in the sovereign Palestinian state.] You have a genuine problem, because you have a 60-year pattern denying the reality of Israel. Which I see no particular evidence [to say it] has changed. If you look at the educational materials used by the PA, I've been told, it's astonishingly hostile. So if you look at the effort to recruit children as suicide bombers - these are things actively going on in your neighborhood. You don't sit to negotiate with neighbors who in the process are trying to kill you."
Aren't you supposed to negotiate with your adversaries? The U.S. has changed its attitude toward the Taliban and the Muslim Brotherhood.
"The Obama administration is seeking a method of appeasement to enable it to leave the region - which I believe will leave the region more dangerous and violent and anti-Western."
How would you deal with the looming September vote at the UN on the recognition of the Palestinian state?
"I would advise the U.S. to take [former] Secretary of State Jim Baker's advice to President George H.W. Bush, who said that if the UN does that, we should suspend all payments to the UN."
How realistic is that?
"This administration probably won't do it, but of course it's a realistic policy. If the U.S. indicates that a totally corrupt and irresponsible and destructive UN is an unacceptable vehicle to discuss things, it would have a huge impact on the world. But currently we are not seen as a serious country, but as a country whose leadership is not capable of dealing with threats. The very fact that 60 countries went to an antiterrorism conference in Tehran - including Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan - it was their view that it's less dangerous to irritate the U.S. than to irritate the Iranians."
So what would constitute an effective strategy to deal with the Iranian regime?
"I think we should learn a great deal from Reagan, Thatcher and Pope John Paul II. Our goal should be to replace the current dictatorship in Iran, and to replace it using covert operations, using propaganda, using sanctions, funneling money into dissident groups, ceasing communications strategies. Reagan broke the Soviet Empire in Eastern Europe without firing a shot. You apply the whole range of pressures, consciously designed to break the regime - from economic pressure to cutting off technology, to fomenting things like the solidarity movement. We are now passive, while the Iranians are waging war against us. We had the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff say flatly that Iranian equipment is killing Americans in Iraq - yet we do nothing about it. We exert no costs."
This August, unlike some other presidential candidates, Gingrich won't appear at the Jerusalem rally organized by the conservative radio and television host Glenn Beck.
"I spoke with Glenn, but it wasn't something I could do," he explains. "But it's nice of him to be doing it. We might go to visit the region at some point in the fall. If we go, we'll certainly visit Israel - but probably also Egypt, Jordan and the Gulf states."
The Tea Party movement seems to be having a big influence on the Republican Party's current primaries race. In Israel, many people have mixed feelings about it.
"There is a significant overlap between the Tea Party movement and the Evangelical movement. And Evangelicals are very pro-Israel - it goes back to the Bible and that whole belief that Israel is a Promised Land in the Old Testament. Recently, I was in South Carolina at the Tea Party town hall meeting - and I said that one of my first steps as president will be signing an executive order to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. And I got a standing ovation - and it wasn't a Jewish group. But it's the intensity of identity which has been compounded by radical Islamists, because a growing number of American conservatives see U.S. national security and Israeli national security as faced by the same enemy. It's a parallel interest."
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